Our Night Sky

Course No. 1846
Professor Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course No. 1846
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Investigate the origin of constellations, and learn how to identify the most popular ones in the night sky.
  • numbers Get an introduction to the features of telescopes and binoculars, including optical design, magnification, and mounts.
  • numbers Discover the distinct features of the cratered face of Earth's moon.
  • numbers Learn how to spot fascinating natural phenomena, such as meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, and comets.
  • numbers Discover which of our solar system's planets you can see with nothing more than a simple telescope.
  • numbers Learn how to read a star chart to help you locate interesting objects in the night sky - in all four seasons.

Course Overview

For thousands of years, the star-filled sky has been a source of wonder, discovery, entertainment, and instruction. Ancient people from nearly every continent and culture wove exciting stories about the mythological figures they saw in the heavens. People also used the sun, moon, and stars for time-keeping and navigation. And careful observers throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere kept precise astronomical records, eventually paving the way for the Scientific Revolution and its remarkable discoveries about the nature of the universe.

Even today, watching the sky has not lost its fascination. Equipped only with a pair of eyes or, at most, binoculars and a small telescope, you can behold marvels such as these:

  • The jewel-like star cluster called the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, easily visible with the naked eye and even more magnificent through a pair of binoculars
  • The broad band of the Milky Way arching across the summer sky; the band is the plane of our galaxy seen edge-on from the inside
  • The Perseid meteor shower, a celestial display that peaks in mid-August of every year when Earth passes through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle
  • The cratered face of the moon, stark evidence of the violent era after the birth of the solar system—a record almost completely erased from Earth due to weathering
  • The four Galilean moons of Jupiter, named after Galileo, whose discovery of them in 1610 helped overthrow the geocentric model of the universe
  • A total solar eclipse, an awe-inspiring spectacle that occurs somewhere on Earth roughly every 18 months and is well worth traveling thousands of miles to see

Best of all, the endlessly interesting sky is just overhead wherever you are. All you need to feel at home in its limitless expanse is Our Night Sky, a richly illustrated 12-lecture course that gives you an unrivaled tour around the sky while teaching you about the science, culture, technology, and pure pleasure of stargazing. Our Night Sky focuses on the view from the Northern Hemisphere, reflecting the origins of the most familiar constellations in this region. However, the final lecture completes your tour by covering the most notable sights in the Southern Hemisphere.

View the Riches of the Universe from Your Own Backyard

From asteroids to the zodiac, from the Big Dipper to variable stars, Our Night Sky is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of what there is to see and the best way to see it, whether you live in the city or the country, whether you are a novice observer or an old hand at astronomy who needs a refresher on constellation and star names, locations, lore, and what to expect from season to season as the heavens present a gloriously changing panorama.

Under the guidance of award-winning astronomer and Professor Edward M. Murphy of the University of Virginia, you will learn

  • how to use a planisphere (star finder) or other star map to quickly orient yourself to the sky for any given date and time, and how to use these aids to find your way among the constellations;
  • how to read celestial coordinates to locate objects precisely, and how to find the north or south celestial poles, the celestial equator, the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path during a year), the vernal equinox, and other important landmarks;
  • how to appreciate the deep cultural roots of astronomy, which lie in humankind's universal quest to understand the heavens through vivid stories that have never lost their power and charm;
  • how to enhance your observing experience by selecting the right equipment from a bewildering array of choices in binoculars, telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, and other hardware; and
  • how to decipher the science behind planets, stars, and galaxies by learning the fundamentals of solar system structure, star types, stellar life cycles, galaxy classification, and other information that will enrich your observing.

Above all, you will better appreciate how our view from Earth reflects a hidden order—a structure that was discovered by sky observers long ago, who drew on centuries of observations to put together the picture we now learn from textbooks. As you watch the sky appear to rotate around the celestial pole over the course of a night, you will almost feel Earth turning beneath you, as it in fact does. As you look at a phase of the moon, you will automatically envision the relative positions of the sun, moon, and Earth that produce this view. As you observe the constellations slowly shift as you go out at the same time every night, you will know that you are seeing the effect of Earth's revolution around the sun.

In short, you will gain a truly cosmic perspective on our world. Equipped with this outlook, and with the extensive science, history, mythology, observing tips, and other background provided by Professor Murphy, you will be ready to step outside, look up, and become a space traveler from your own backyard.

The Night Sky Planisphere is Included with This Course! Along with this course you will receive the same Night Sky Planisphere Star Chart used by Professor Murphy throughout his lectures. This sturdy, easy-to-use star finder is an invaluable aid for locating major constellations and stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere. The Planisphere is included with DVD purchases only.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 32 minutes each
  • 1
    The Constellations and Their Stars
    Begin your study of the night sky by investigating the origin of the constellations—the traditional groupings of stars that mostly date to antiquity. The well-known constellation Orion illustrates the fascinating mix of beauty, mythology, and scientific knowledge to be found wherever you look in the heavens. x
  • 2
    Seeing and Navigating the Sky
    The naked eye is a powerful instrument—if you know how to use it. Learn the best times and conditions for observing, how to identify the positions and magnitudes of stars and planets, how the sky changes over the course of a night, how to use astronomical maps such as a planisphere, and more. x
  • 3
    Using Binoculars and Backyard Telescopes
    There are many choices when selecting binoculars or a telescope. Learn what to look for in light-gathering power, optical design, magnification, mounts, and other features. Professor Murphy also suggests several tips for getting the best observing experience out of your equipment. x
  • 4
    Observing the Moon and the Sun
    Charting the motions and changes of the sun and moon may be humankind's oldest astronomical activity. Discover how both objects offer rich opportunities for study. Also learn the precautions to take when observing the sun, which is the only star that can be seen up close and in detail. x
  • 5
    Observing the Planets with a Telescope
    The rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the polar caps of Mars—these and other planetary features are visible through a small telescope. Learn when viewing opportunities arise for each of the planets and what sights await the dedicated observer. x
  • 6
    Meteor Showers, Comets, Eclipses, and More
    Explore a variety of special phenomena that are among the wonders of the sky. Some, like bright meteors, aurora, and many comets, are largely unpredictable. Others, like eclipses and annual meteor showers, occur at well-known times—although it may require a special trip to see them. x
  • 7
    The Northern Sky and the North Celestial Pole
    Embarking on the second half of the course in which you systematically tour the entire sky, study two constellations that are continuously in view from the Northern Hemisphere: Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Also explore the slowly shifting position of true north in the sky. x
  • 8
    The Fall Sky
    Navigate your way around the autumn sky from the Northern Hemisphere, discovering how the classical myth of Andromeda ties together the stories of the nearby constellations of Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cepheus, Pegasus, and Cetus. The sights include the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy to our own. x
  • 9
    The Winter Sky
    Continuing your focus on the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, survey the magnificent winter sky, dominated by Orion. "Star hop" around the region, which includes a wealth of interesting stars, globular clusters, nebulae, and other features, especially the Orion Nebula—the finest nebula in the northern sky—and the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in Taurus. x
  • 10
    The Spring Sky
    The spring sky opens the view into intergalactic space perpendicular to the plane of the Milky Way. Among the objects visible are the immensely rich galaxy clusters in Virgo and Coma Berenices, which are many millions of light-years distant and can be seen with small and moderate telescopes. x
  • 11
    The Summer Sky
    Arching high overhead in the summer sky is the Milky Way, which is the plane of our galaxy seen from the inside. Tour this densely packed region of stars of all types, from dusty regions of star birth to the exquisite shells of dying stars. Here, a useful orienting feature is the Summer Triangle. x
  • 12
    The Southern Sky and the Milky Way
    In this final lecture, travel to the Southern Hemisphere for sky views inaccessible from northern latitudes. Discover the famous Southern Cross, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and a spectacular panorama of the Milky Way—along with new myths and stories that add a human dimension to our marvelous night sky. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Instant Video Includes:
  • Download 12 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 98-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 98-page course synopsis
  • Charts, tables & diagrams
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Edward M. Murphy

About Your Professor

Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Edward M. Murphy is Associate Professor, General Faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He earned his bachelor's degree in Astronomy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1996. Professor Murphy was a postdoctoral fellow and an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked on NASA's Far...
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Our Night Sky is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 195.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky Enjoying it. Decades ago I tried twice to get through an Intro Astronomy course only to drop it in boredom after the first 3 weeks. In this course I don't know if it's the format or the supporting materials or the professor's long history of sharing his love of the material and creating an enthusiasm for it but I truly have been looking forward to the next lectures. In every session I find myself thinking "so that's how that works" or "wow, that makes sense" Glad I took the step and bought the course...
Date published: 2020-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great content and presentation I learned a great deal from this course. I especially appreciated the mythology behind the constellations. I feel better prepared to navigate the night skies. The professor is very knowledgeable. While his style is quick delivery, I simply stopped the video and rewound them so I could take handwritten notes.
Date published: 2020-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky This is a good course for the beginning astronomer. It was very thorough and I keep referring back to it. The DVD version has a small booklet with additional information but I wished it contained some of the stuff from the course. Also, I have had a hard time trying to find the the publish date for courses, Our Night Sky is 2010.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content, very thorough The lecture delivery is monotone and difficult to listen to .. not possible to binge watch. A good aspect of the course is that after each lecture there are topics to think about. These do reel force the learning
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation by Prof. Murphy Great course for someone with a new telescope and interested in getting the most enjoyment with it.
Date published: 2020-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding - no better word exists. I purchased the course about a month ago, so far the book that accompanies the DVDs is excellent reading. The DVD class is excellent, very easy to follow.
Date published: 2020-02-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky I had to listen to the first two lectures twice because there is so much information! I’m doing this so when we get a telescope for our cottage in northern WI, we can understand what we see in a knowledgeable way. Dr. Murphy is outstanding...easy to listen to and gives information in a way that I can understand. I’m not science minded, but the second time was much easier for me. I would recommend this course for anyone wanting to understand more about our cosmos.
Date published: 2020-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Gift For My Son in law My son in law is incredibly intelligent and highly educated. That said, he continues to challenge himself to learn something new, and share it with others. I got this course for him as something he can share with his children (my grandbabies!).
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky After I retired, I wanted to start using my telescope and look at the heavens again. Professor Murphy's course brought back all the interest that I had and more. His detailed knowledge of astronomy and the mythology of the constellations is superb. I am glad that I found Great Courses and Our Night Sky. It has inspired me to look into taking other courses. After all, a person never stops leaning. Thanks
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Educational Enjoying the course so far. The weather has been cloudy lately so haven't yet had a chance to get out and use the Planisphere. Excited to get out and apply what I am learning when the skies clear.
Date published: 2020-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was an excellent set of lectures detailing information on the night sky. Very well presented, at a good pace and by an enthusiastic lecturer. Would watch another course by him.
Date published: 2020-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A primer on viewing and equipment This was exactly what we needed entering into the hobby in a significant way. He does great job of discribing the origin of the constellations. Using that as a spring board he then discribes the night sky in all four seasons paying particular attention to what is veiwable in each constellation and how to locate it. This makes it a useful tool to watch parts again in each season. As he goes through the subject material he describes various astonomical equipment. These include refractors, reflectors, SC, Newtonian, Alt-Azmuth and equitorial mounts, cameras, and binoculars. I had no idea how useful binoculars are to view certain sky features. A very nice base course.
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of constellations I took this course. Was happy to see I could watch it on my TV with a ROKU app. The course covered what I wanted it to, and encouraged the use of a Planisphere, which was helpful. The mythology behind the constellations was very interesting and the knowledge of Professor Murphy is incredible.
Date published: 2019-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Never too old to learn something new Beautifully done. A great intro as I embark upon my new hobby of Astronomy.
Date published: 2019-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Presentation I have always wanted to explore one of The Great Courses, and decided to begin with "Our Night Sky". I received these 12 lectures as a download on my computer. As a complete layman, I was a bit concerned about being able to keep up. But, Professor Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D. lectures in a way that is easy to understand, and I have found them to be absolutely fascinating. There is much info and detail that I was not able to absorb with the first viewing, but being able to go back and review has enabled me to really understand what is being presented. NOTE: Because I ordered this class as a download, I did not initially receive the planisphere. I would strongly suggest spending the extra money to have one shipped to you, or purchase one for yourself elsewhere. The professor gives clear instruction how to use it, and it is central to many of the lectures. I found myself going outside after each lecture, using the planisphere and exploring what I had just learned. Having one definitely makes the teachings come alive. This is a great course. If you have any interest in our night sky, you will enjoy this teaching.
Date published: 2019-02-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lot of infos I learn a lot in this course. It matchs with what I expected!
Date published: 2019-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I wanted Back in 1981, I enrolled in an astronomy course at the junior college taught by the local Planetarium Director. It was cancelled for lack of registrants. Now 37 years later, with the aid of your stupendous savings in your annual winter sale; I ordered this course. In just the very 1st lesson, Dr. Murphy taught me something that neither edition of Televisions “Cosmos;” frequent trips to Planetiariums across the globe, nor any Discovery channel space program I’ve ever seen, taught me. That is, The initial origin stories of the names of our constellations. AND, I’ve only just begun my studies. I can’t wait to see what truly new insights are in store for me. I am certain, it’s just the beginning of something Great. After 37 years .....Well Worth the Wait. Thank you!
Date published: 2019-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential! I've been fascinated with the movements of our solar system since childhood.Our Night Sky makes everything click.I'm only on lecture four but thoroughly hooked.I am savoring this concise and comprehensive course.Essential viewing for anyone who wants to marvel at the clockwork beauty of our universe.Buy it.
Date published: 2019-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from awsome view bought this course for the thing to help me spot the stars in the sky.
Date published: 2019-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Packed with information, flows nicely I was surprised at how much information the course contained, yet it is easy to follow using the course guide book and the transcript. I am trying to complete three units a week, and I'm using the planisphere and other star gazing as homework.
Date published: 2019-02-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from First disc good; the second not very helpful The planosphere sucks; I had a better one when I was a kid in the 1950's.
Date published: 2019-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Useful Info A lot of useful information for my nature programs
Date published: 2019-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Freaking Awesome!! Looking into astrophotography and this is the perfect road map. Haven't been able to download and I wish I could view on my big screen on Roku.
Date published: 2019-01-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A lot of info! I’m only two lectures in and there’s a lot of info here. I’ll be watching each one a few times to catch everything.
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good summary of stargazing techniques The professor does a good, comprehensive job of discussing the aspects of viewing the night sky. Reflects both hemispheres although concentrates on the Northern Hemisphere where most participants are likely located. Include good discussion and recommendations on use of various pieces of equipment used in the process, including the recommended solution. Explains the Sky Planisphere included with the course. While helpful, could have been expanded.
Date published: 2018-10-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perfect Introduction to Astronomy This course is especially good for people just starting to learn the science of Astronomy. It clearly explains the Sky and the equipment the amateur Astronomer might use to observe it in a way that a layman can understand. I am going on my third time through the course!!
Date published: 2018-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informational and professional This course was very well presented and professional. The professor was very knowledgeable in the night sky and I found the course to be very exciting, educational, well paced and covered a variety of astronomical topics!
Date published: 2018-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Northern Night Sky Toolkit This course operates well on multiple levels for sky observation. L1 includes clear instructions for use of the included planisphere for those of us impatient to start. Pay close attention to L2-3 if you are thinking of buying a telescope. Take notes, because Murphy’s explanations of the differences between eyepieces, 2X Barlow lenses, focal length vs magnification/field of view, magnification based on aperture size & eyepiece, chromatic aberration, "aperture fever", refractor vs reflecting vs catadioptric telescopes WILL ALL BE VERY IMPORTANT FOR YOU to grasp. The great part of L2-3 is that his explanations are extraordinarily clear. The difficult part is that he does talk rapidly AND the guidebook doesn't annotate a lot of this. Take marginal notes, they will serve you well. L4-6 provide wonderful hints on moon observation as well as a valuable tract on why you need to understand planet opposition. At the end of the guidebook is an extremely valuable table to alert you to the best opportunities. Other astronomic topics include ecliptic, blood moon, meteors, etc. L7-11 start with a general view of the Northern Sky and then Murphy discusses each season in a separate chapter. Here the guidebook (plus some handwritten notes) is useful as the written material strains out the much of the folklore. Folklore is useful to help one remember things but distracting if repeated by replay of the course. L12 was really enjoyable as I now have a much better idea of what my friends “Down Under” see. Finally, Dr. Murphy has kindly done an amazing job with his appendices. His discussion and tables include: “The 88 Constellations with Selected Bright Stars”, “The 30 Brightest Stars”, “Planetary Data", and "The Best Annual Meteor Showers". These are extremely useful in marking anticipated important events on your calendar. Since they help you plan so far ahead, his tables are easier to use than most apps, which concentrate on events of the day. CONCLUSION: Take notes, replay the season chapter for the quarter you are in, join a local astronomy club, and enjoy a captivating show every generation has enjoyed prior to the industrial revolution.
Date published: 2018-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from First Class Just the first class and I have learned a tremendous amount.
Date published: 2018-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done. Excellent well thought out presentations. Good mix of mythological tradition, science, and application for the amateur observer. An introduction for . more learning
Date published: 2018-07-21
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